Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Post-Election Speeches... Plus

If you listened to or read the post-election speeches from the two major presidential candidates, you probably heard some of the same predictable platitudes we've learned to expect from the winners and losers.

I thought McCain's concession speech was clearly the stronger of the two. He seemed to harbor no bitterness and expressed what appeared to be genuine and unselfish support for the winner. He also had the shorter speech. The best and strongest part of Obama's victory speech was the section near the end where he told the story of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper who voted this year on election day in spite of her sex and color, something she would have been unable to do as a much younger woman.

However both McCain and Obama repeated some comments that, I think, we need to examine, and even question as to accuracy and usefulness. McCain said, "Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this..the greatest nation on earth." I have no problem with people valuing their citizenship in any country. But what scale of measurement is McCain using to conclude that the United States is "the greatest nation on earth?" "Greatest" is a very vague term. How do we measure "greatness?" Is it comparable to wealth or destructive potential? If so than perhaps the US is the "greatest" nation on earth. We have more wealth than most other nations, although there are countries with fewer poor people. We also have more destructive potential, but that's because we invest more of our resources in developing our ability to destroy other peoples or countries. Some might call that "greatness," but others would call it foolish, wasteful, and dangerous. Certainly our treatment of slaves and our destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples are not signs of greatness. Our use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only nation in the world to have ever used nuclear weapons to attack civilian populations, is not a sign of greatness. Neither was our war against the Vietnamese, nor is the current war against the Iraqi people a sign of greatness. Most industrialized nations give a much larger percentage of their GNP to non-military developmental aid than the US does. We spend more on health care but don't live as long as people in many other industrialized nations. We have much less support for families from business and government than any country in western Europe. The gap between the minority rich and majority middle and poor classes is increasing. Real wage increases for the working people in this nation have been, at best, nearly stagnant for many years, since early in the Reagan Administration. So what does McCain mean by "greatest?" It would be nice if politicians who claim that the United States is the "greatest" nation in the world would state exactly what they mean by "greatest."

Obama was caught making a similar mistake. At the closing of his speech he said, "And may God bless the United States of America." Some would say that asking for God's blessing on a country which has already been blessed more than most countries is simply selfish. I understand that view, but I'm wondering why Obama stopped with the United States. Why not ask for God's blessing on the whole world, or on Planet Earth. God knows that with all the problems facing this limited planet and it's finite resources, the Earth could use some blessings. I would think that if any presidential candidate would have a more global perspective for the future, it would be Obama. But in closing his victory speech he sounded just like dozens of winning politicians who have gone before him.

McCain might have had the better closing since he said "God bless America," not simply the "United States of America" as Obama concluded his speech. Presumably "America" could mean any country, or all the countries, in North, Central, and South American, making McCain's request for God's blessing broader and less selfish than Obama's. However I doubt if McCain was thinking of Haiti, Colombia, or El Salvador when he made that statement.

At one point in his speech Obama said, ".. we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us." I have no problem with the bravery part of this quote, but I believe every thinking US citizen, including Obama, knows by now that the "brave Americans" in Iraq are not there to risk their lives for us, but for oil, and the oil companies who want access to those resources. Those in Afghanistan are still a part of an incompetent president's act of retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that has been a complete failure in that it's done little to bring those to justice those who planned the attacks, and has done incredible amounts of damage to civilian populations.

McCain said, "Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history." Again these platitudes also raise questions. We "never quit," and "never surrender," compared to who? These statements are as empty and meaningless as a cheerleader's rah! rah! rah! Certainly there were and are times when quiting would be the more intelligent and civilized choice, like now, with regards to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also now concerning our use of fossil fuels to run this country. It's possible to make the transition, in one decade, to a transportation system primarily run on electric. We should quit killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan and we should quit using fossil fuels, or significantly reduce our use of them. We should also quit polluting our rivers and atmosphere. We should quit using military violence to try to solve our problems with other countries. "Making history" is not necessarily good if it involves killing large numbers of innocent civilians, as it often has throughout US history.

Fortunately neither candidate resorted to using another platitude often heard at times like this and that is referring to the US as the "land of the free and the home of the brave." This one is particularly void of meaning and reflects in those who repeat it, a condescending and discriminating attitude toward other countries and citizens. There are other countries where people are not as free as in the US, but there are also countries where people have much more freedoms than US citizens have. Any country with universal health insurance provides their citizens with a freedom many people in the US do not have. With universal health insurance people have the freedom to change jobs and relocate, whereas in the US, such a transition could cost them their health insurance, and they may not be able to obtain comparable coverage due to preexisting conditions, or lack of availability. Bravery is even less of a unique US citizen characteristic than freedom. There are brave people in every country. In fact one could argue that those who are wealthy and have a nice home, a consistent income, and know where their next meal is coming from, do not need to be near as brave as the poor who work hard every day and yet barely survive. Bravery is probably a lot more common in third world countries than in the US.

It would be nice to hear a victory or concession speech from a national candidate that is free of the meaningless phrases and empty platitudes so often heard after the election is over, but it didn't happen this year.

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